As far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated with symbolism and tradition. The customs and practices of previous generations. Every age past has it’s own fascinating customs and mind set. I think it may really be what was in the heads of those who lived those periods that holds me. So I studied and grew to understand some of what was in their heads and firmly believe it is one of the main reasons I am where I am in my journey.
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Growing up I wondered why those three gifts were given to Jesus by the Magi. Then I found out and what I learned struck a chord in my heart’s desire to delve into the symbolism and tradition I mentioned above.
Gold is the gift that is always given to kings by their visitors and subjects. Jesus is the King of all kings isn’t He? We in the Church have never stopped giving of our wealth to further the cause of Christ. It is a natural continuation of a tradition that extends back to the earliest known history of man. Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, the Priest-King of Salem. Who by the way had brought out bread and wine to give Abraham a blessing after his battle to rescue his wayward nephew Lot. (Gen.14:18-20)
Frankincense was an expensive resin that was used in the priestly liturgy in the Tabernacle and Temple. It was offered as a sweet smelling aroma (Eph. 5:2) representing the prayers of the people to God. (Mal. 1:11, Rev. 5:8) We who worship in the liturgical/sacramental portion of the Church know the significance of incense in worship. We never even stopped using Frankincense! Talk about an organic connection to Christ and the early Church. I think had I known this I may have started my journey to Orthodoxy sooner.
These two are fascinating in their own right but the most fascinating, and painful, is the gift of Myrrh. Myrrh represents two sides of life. The sweetness of it’s scent was used extensively as a perfume. Solomon writes of it often in the Song of Songs to describe the desirableness of his beloved. It was used to bring joy and content to those who used it for pleasure. It also had a darker use. It was a primary ingredient in the limited “embalming” practiced by the Jews. I wonder how much the Magi brought to the child Jesus but I doubt that it was fifty or more pounds. However, that was the amount gifted by Nicodemus to our Lord after his death. (John 19:39) To me it is the most provocative of the gifts. It brings to mind the sweetness of His presence here on Earth and the bitterness of His ignominious death and burial.
The birth, life and death of God. I cannot fully fathom it’s depths. I can however rejoice in it’s truth and what it means for me a sinner. Thanks be to God that I am no longer the man I was and have a chance to become the man He wishes me to be.